The Taming of Ted Turner

Forget about those legendary tales of excess. Taking the biggest risk of his life, Turner confronted the dark legacy of his father and prevailed.

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In his sailing days he was rarely home, and during one period he missed three consecutive Christmases. When he did spend time with his family, says his eldest son Teddy, he behaved as though "kids were a necessary evil." He forbade crying, snapped at the slightest imperfection (such as a dinner delayed or a skateboard in the driveway) and ran his weekends at his South Carolina plantation on a militaristic schedule of dawn-to-dusk hunting. Teddy remembers the canoe trip he and his two brothers took with their father when Teddy was about 11. Turner, he says, "yelled and screamed the whole time. It was a nightmare. So when we had finished and we were just going down the Chattahoochee River and Dad said, 'Well, did everybody have a great time?' I said no. And, boy, he smacked me hard."

Turner did not confine his pugnaciousness to his home. As a skipper, he occasionally struck crew members who made mistakes. He abruptly ended his Playboy interview with Peter Ross Range in 1983 by smashing Range's tape recorder. At the office his bursts of violence were verbal, but almost all his top executives say they have felt them. After one tirade, says Gerald Hogan, the former president of TBS Entertainment Networks, "he had me, not in tears, crying, but at that point my eyes had welled up, I was so angry."

In some ways the bruised and bruising Turner was a patient perfectly suited to Dr. Pittman's specialty. Although Pittman will not discuss Turner's case specifically, he says, "What I do is help men who don't have a very good image of masculinity because of a failure in their relationship with their father" learn to have "a partnership with a woman they can see as their equal." Turner approached counseling with the same ferocious concentration on results that made it possible for him, say, to start a second CNN channel, Headline News, in 90 days in 1981. He asked four of his top executives to see Pittman so the psychiatrist could understand him better. And after he moved in with Ebaugh in August 1986, he agreed to see other counselors with her, including one who specialized in what Ebaugh describes as "high-performance" couples.

That someone as autocratic as Turner would accept guidance from another man is not as surprising at it seems: Turner is above all a pragmatist. "I've never met anybody who can so quickly recognize a truth and internalize it," says Jane Fonda, whom Turner married on Dec. 21 after a two-year courtship. "When he feels something is right, he just does it. Without a backward look." When he launched CNN, the Turner who at his WTBS Superstation had relegated the news to a 3 a.m. comedy show that occasionally featured a German shepherd and lemon meringue pies became Turner the Newsman, who traveled from Nicaragua to the Soviet Union to see things for himself and who told CNN president Tom Johnson to spend whatever he needed (it turned out to be $30 million) on the Persian Gulf war coverage.

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